Throughout EPIK’s 9-day orientation, whenever anyone asked a question, the response always began with “it depends.” Regardless of whether someone was inquiring about school dress code, vacation days, or living arrangements, there was never one universal answer. As frustrating and annoying as these two small words got to be, I’ve seen how they also hold the most truth—and that’s after just a few weeks of living and teaching in Korea.
From your students, to your co-teachers, to your school and apartment, all of it is going to be unique to your situation. Most people get placed at an elementary school (maybe 70%), but a few wind up working at the middle school and high school level (the other 30%). Perhaps you’ll work at an all-girls or all-boys school. You might only have one co-teacher or several. Your school could be in the countryside and have less than 100 students, or it could sit smack in the middle of a major city downtown and have over 1,000 kids. More than likely your apartment will be a studio, but some people end up walking into a one or two bedroom place. Just within my small group of English teacher friends here, all of these scenarios are represented to some degree. And there’s even more variation to found. It allllll depends, not on anyone or anything in particular; it just depends. And there’s no way of knowing what your circumstances will be until you’re already standing in them.
And it goes both ways. You are a new, different teacher from the previous person. So all the worries that you have about liking your students and getting along with other teachers? They have those exact same anxieties about you. Will the new foreign teacher make my lessons interesting? Will he/she be someone who is easy to teach along side of? They know as little about you as you know about them. *Cue High School Musical’s “We’re All In This Together.”*
So, if you’re reading this blog as a future/aspiring EPIK teacher, I hope you’re taking it in as just one person’s experience and not as some sort of crystal ball that lays out precisely what it will be like for you. And if you’re just reading this for fun, the broader message still applies: we can’t build our expectations for the future entirely from stories told by those who have come before us. Sure, there’s plenty of value in learning from predecessors’ mistakes so we can avoid them ourselves, and it’s fun to hope and fantasize that you’ll have the exact same amazing-life-altering-oh-my-God-incredible time as someone else down to the tiniest grain of rice. But there’s also immense growth and discovery to be had in royally screwing up on your own, and if you paint too detailed of picture in your head of what your time here, or the future, will be like then I guarantee you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
So what can—or rather, should—you expect when you’re expecting a life and job in South Korea? Expect it to be yours. Your journey, your students and coworkers, your apartment, your…whatever. It’ll be yours and no one else’s. If this final sentiment leaves you dissatisfied…as Eric says to Cory on Boy Meets World, “Life tough, get a helmet.”